Labour have accused a health minister of insulting student nurses after she wrote that ordinarily they were “not deemed to be providing a service” in hospitals.

Helen Whately, the care minister, made the comments in a letter to a fellow Conservative MP.

The Royal College of Nursing’s students committee have now requested a meeting with the minister and described her remarks as “factually inaccurate”.

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

In the letter, Ms Whately also said there were no plans to backdate a new grant for student nurses.

She wrote: “Student nurses in training are supernumerary and are not deemed to be providing a service. They are required to undertake 2,300 hours of clinical practice to learn the skills necessary for entry to the workforce.

“Whilst they may be performing limited clinical duties, this is under close supervision and they are not being paid to staff hospitals.”

She does praise student nurses for “always putting patients first and keeping them safe while providing excellent care”.

In a statement the minister defended her comments.

She said that “supernumerary status for student nurses is a technical definition created to ensure they have the space and time to learn, and it is widely supported across the nursing profession.”

Thousands of student nurses were called up to the NHS frontline earlier this year as the UK battled coronavirus.

But there was anger last week after it emerged that their contracts would be terminated earlier than had been expected.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the comments were “an insult to hard-working student nurses, many of whom gave up paid work to be on the frontline answering the call of duty at this time national Covid emergency.

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He added that ministers should be doing all they can to support student nurses.

In a statement to Nursing Notes, which first reported the letter, Ms Whately said: “The whole country is grateful to student nurses for their heroic work on the NHS frontline during this unprecedented global pandemic.

“Supernumerary status for student nurses is a technical definition created to ensure they have the space and time to learn, and it is widely supported across the nursing profession.

“There is a strong financial aid package for nurses and going forwards we have introduced even further support for nursing, midwifery and many allied health profession students consisting of a £5,000 to £8,000 grant to help with maintenance and associated study costs, which does not need to be paid back.”

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